Here's what really happens when physicians spring into action on planes, in restaurants, at the theater. (It even happened at a performance of Hamilton.) Their tips can help you help others — or yourself — in an emergency.
There's Plenty You Can Do When a Baby Can't Wait
"I was heading home to Los Angeles from my honeymoon in Bali, when halfway into our flight, the crew asked if there was a doctor present. I hurried to help a female passenger who said she was having ab pains and found one very pregnant woman. She was 36 weeks! I'm not an ob-gyn, but I knew the basics from medical school. Her water hadn't broken yet, so I hoped the baby would wait to come until we landed. It didn't work out that way. As we started our descent, the baby's head began to crown, and I knew I'd have to handle the delivery myself. The crew gave me blankets and Tylenol, and clean metal clamps I could use to tie off the umbilical cord. As I pulled the infant out, I saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck. I quickly unlooped the cord so the newborn could breathe and cry — it was a girl! We landed, the EMS crew took over, and everyone was fine. Anyone can help deliver a baby. Nature will do a lot of the work for you — just make sure you carefully pull the baby out and hear that cry so you know she's breathing. After the birth, use blankets or clothing to keep the child warm. Nerve-wracking? Yes! But you're helping to bring a new life into the world. What can top that?"—Angelica Zen, MD, an internist in the UCLA Health System in Santa Monica, CA
Beware of Boozing on a Plane
"I once took a red-eye from San Francisco to Paris for a family vacation, and just as I was dozing off, I heard the announcement: 'Is there a doctor on board?' The flight attendant brought me to the front of the plane, where a woman was lying on the floor. She'd had several glasses of wine, and when she stood to go to the bathroom, she collapsed. Alcohol can make you feel the altitude more — which, at 8,000 feet, can be dizzying. If you're dehydrated from too much liquor and not enough water, you'll feel even worse. The woman was conscious, so I advised her to breathe deeply and drink water right away. She felt better after that. Everyone should travel smart: Take care of yourself before and during your flight. Make sure you don't skip meals so your blood sugar doesn't dip. And your best bet when the beverage cart rolls around is plain water, since alcohol contributes to dehydration." —Sara Gottfried, MD, founder of the Gottfried Institute in Berkeley, CA
Recognize When a Cut Is Serious
"A lot of people don't know there's an actual 'doctor in the house' for live events, but there often is. I'm a house doctor for performances at Lincoln Center, including at the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. One night, I was seated in the orchestra section for a performance of Romeo and Juliet when I got a tap on the shoulder from a theater employee. We hurried backstage; Romeo had just gotten his hand sliced in a sword fight. I put steady, firm pressure on the injury to stop the bleeding, then I cleaned up the wound and bandaged him. He was a trouper — he headed right back onstage! Word to the wise: If a cut doesn't stop bleeding, is deep, or is over a joint, it's best to get medical attention right away." —Lillie Rosenthal, DO, an integrative physician with board certification in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York
Ask a Lot of Questions
"This story actually includes Dr. Oz! We'd just appeared on Good Morning America together, and as we walked out of the studio in Times Square, an older man staggered out of the crowd on the street and fainted right in front of us. It was clear this could be a serious cardiac problem, so we asked a witness to call 911 while we checked to see whether the man was breathing — he was — and took his pulse. After a few seconds, he regained consciousness. Once we realized he was alert, I asked him the four key questions you should pose to any person in medical distress. (Jot down the responses or make notes in your phone, so you can relay them to the paramedics when they arrive.) One: What's your name and address? Two: What's your date of birth? Three: Do you have any existing conditions or allergies, and are you on any medications? And finally: Can you describe your symptoms? In case the person loses consciousness, having this info can be lifesaving. We never found out what happened to this man, but we felt like he had a fighting chance because the paramedics arrived and he got care immediately." —Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic
Learn CPR, and Give It Your All
"My family and I were at the beach when suddenly we saw an unconscious man float to the water's surface. My wife, who's a critical-care nurse, and I rushed to help pull him out. We rolled him on his side, careful not to move his neck in case he had a spinal cord injury, and water gushed out of his mouth. Then we turned him onto his back again, and I did CPR for seven minutes, until the paramedics arrived. It's important not to stop before the victim is breathing normally and regains a pulse. Later, I called the hospital where the man was in the ICU, alive but on a respirator. An undercurrent knocked him to the ocean floor, injuring his spinal cord and paralyzing him. Little by little, over time, he got better and was able to walk again. Lesson? Never go swimming if there's a strong undercurrent; you're no match for the ocean's power." —Richard Miller, chief of the division of trauma and surgical care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville
Don't Try to 'Stop' a Seizure
"My wife and I were sightseeing in D.C. many years ago when we noticed a crowd forming. We cut through it and found a mother crouched over her son; he was about 9 years old and convulsing violently. I immediately sent someone to call 911. Then I checked the ground to make sure there were no branches or other debris that could injure him as he jerked his arms and legs. I loosened his collar to keep his airway open, but that's all I did in terms of touching him. The safest thing is to let the seizure run its course — you shouldn't try to pin someone down. Once he stopped moving, I turned the boy onto his left side. People often throw up after they have a seizure, and if they're on their left side, there's less chance they'll end up with vomit in their lungs. When the ambulance came, the paramedics took over and transported him to the hospital; we learned that his seizure was the result of a recent viral illness. He recovered. Ten years later, he wrote me a thank-you letter; he was a successful and healthy college student." —James "Butch" Rosser, Jr., MD, general surgeon in Celebration, FL
Know How to Spot Choking Signs
"At dinner one night, a friend abruptly stopped talking, and stared at me with terror. I realized he was choking on a piece of lobster. There's a universal sign for choking — hands clutched to the throat — but not everyone knows it. I got him up and wrapped my arms around his torso to perform the Heimlich: I made a fist with one hand, covered it with the other, and wedged it under his rib cage, thrusting back and up hard. It worked! Interesting fact? Dr. Henry Heimlich invented the maneuver in 1974 — he's 96 now — and he used it for the first time this May, saving a woman's life." –Holly S. Andersen, MD, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital
This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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